Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.
Outfitted for corporate cubicles, the IBM ThinkCentre S50 may also be just the thing for small offices with an eye toward data management and PC usability. A laughably easy-to-access interior showcases a series of capable parts, although SOHO users should look into swapping the CD-ROM for a CD-RW. Our test system's performance was hampered by an older Pentium 4 processor that could not take advantage of the system's newer Intel 865G chipset, but choosing a compatible CPU should improve the ThinkCentre S50's efficiency. This system's true claim to fame is its IT-management software, which includes Rapid Restore for preserving data and applications in case of system failure, and Access IBM, a configuration utility. Combined with IBM's copious warranty services, the ThinkCentre S50 is one of the finest business-minded PCs to pass through our Labs.
The IBM ThinkCentre S50 may not win any design awards on its looks alone, but this plain, black box is one of the easiest-to-use PCs we've seen--and business users will take function over form any day. The ThinkCentre S50's slim chassis can lie horizontally or stand vertically. The entire case is tool-free; just press a button on each side panel to open the case, revealing an interior that will draw applause from IT departments far and near. The hard drive and the CD-ROM drive are latched into place and are easy to remove and exchange. The drive bays themselves fold out at a 90-degree angle, giving you full access to the system's motherboard.
|The panel holding the hard drive and the CD-ROM drive flips up to give you unfettered access to the motherboard. It also makes exchanging drives a snap.|
With just two open PCI slots (on a riser card) and no AGP slot, the ThinkCentre S50 has little internal expansion room, though it should suffice for business users. You have more room for external expansion with two USB 2.0 ports and microphone and speaker jacks on the front panel and six additional USB 2.0 around back.
Because the S50's case is too small for a full-size expansion card, a riser card with two PCI slots is used so that full-size cards can fit into the case's slim profile.
IBM built the ThinkCentre S50 on Intel's 865G (formerly called Springdale) chipset, which features performance-enhancing technology, such as an 800MHz frontside bus, and support for dual-channel DDR memory and Hyper-Threading--a boost to corporate multitaskers. Our ThinkCentre S50 test system was configured with the older 2.66GHz Pentium 4 processor, which, unfortunately, doesn't take advantage of the aforementioned features. Since we acquired this system for review, however, the newer 2.4GHz, 2.6GHz, and 2.8GHz Pentium 4 chips, which are a better fit with the 865G chipset and take advantage of the chipset's high-end features, have been added to the ThinkCentre S50 line. In fact, a 2.6GHz, P4-based system is roughly the same price as our 2.66GHz, P4-based test system.
Small offices will find a CD-RW drive to be a worthwhile upgrade.
The main features of the ThinkCentre S50 will be sufficient for most business users, whether the workers are in a small office or a mammoth corporation. Accompanying the processor are 256MB of DDR memory and a 40GB hard drive. Even with the older P4 processor at its core, our ThinkCentre S50 test system had more than enough oomph for basic productivity apps, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. In our hands-on tests, we even did a bit of video editing successfully. Intel's 865G chipset also powers the graphics subsystem, sharing 64MB of system memory. Although you can't upgrade the graphics, we could upgrade the CD-ROM drive of our test system to a CD-RW drive. This is probably a lesser priority for large enterprises, but a rewritable drive gives the machine more versatility in a small office where you might need to back up data to a disc rather than to a network.
Power users may need to upgrade the keyboard and the mouse.
While a lot of thought went into the ThinkCentre S50's interior, its external peripherals are hit-or-miss. The 17-inch T750 LCD IBM bundled with our test unit (since replaced by the ThinkVision L170P) looked gorgeous and clear. On the other hand, the IBM-branded keyboard and mouse feel flimsy and unresponsive. A dry-sounding internal speaker serves basic audio needs; the ThinkCentre S50 doesn't ship with a set of external speakers, though IBM does offer a few two- and three-piece sets.
The ThinkCentre S50's IT-management offerings are its greatest attribute. IBM's own Rapid Restore software preserves data and applications even if the entire OS fails, and Update Connector ensures that you have the latest drives and system updates. The Access IBM tool helps you configure, customize, and protect your system. For large corporations, IBM offers image burning and deployment services. Rounding out the software bundle are Norton AntiVirus and hardware troubleshooter PC-Doctor.
Because of its older 2.66GHz Pentium 4 processor, our IBM ThinkCentre S50 test system couldn't take advantage of the new features of the Intel 865G chipset, and its benchmark performance suffered as a result. The system was unable to use the new frontside bus (FSB) speed of 800MHz (it runs on a 533MHz FSB), nor could it use Hyper-Threading or dual-channel memory. Intel introduced these new features with its 3GHz P4 and subsequently released 2.8GHz, 2.6GHz, and 2.4GHz chips that use the new performance-enhancing technology of the 865 chipset. IBM has added these new chips to its S50 line after the acquisition deadline for this review. Although our tested configuration is still available, for improved performance, we suggest that you consider a model with one of the newer Pentium 4 chips; the prices are roughly the same, for example, when comparing a 2.66GHz system and a 2.6GHz system. Our 2.66GHz P4-based review unit is certainly adequate for business needs, but its benchmarks were closer to those of a 2.53GHz P4-based system.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Integrated graphics solutions don't usually provide the level of 3D graphics performance needed for applications with demanding 3D graphics requirements. The ThinkCentre S50 is no exception. Despite the name of the Intel 865G's graphics solution--Intel Extreme Graphics 2--the ThinkCentre S50 will not be able to run most of the high-end games available today. Then again, this fact might just improve your office's productivity. And Intel Extreme Graphics 2 provides approximately twice the performance of Intel's first integrated graphics solution.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4600C
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 865G 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
HP d325 business desktop
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 AGP 8X 64MB; Maxtor 6Y0160L0 160GB 7,200rpm
IBM ThinkCentre S50
Windows XP Professional; 2.66GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 865G 64MB (shared memory); IBM IC35L40AVV207 40GB 7,200rpm
Systemax Venture LP U26R
Windows XP Professional; Intel 845G/GL chipset; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Samsung SP8004H 80GB 7,200rpm
ZT Group Home Office Desktop A5003
Windows XP Professional; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 1.83GHz AMD Athlon XP 2500+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 Ultra 128MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
IBM backs the ThinkCentre S50 with bulletproof support policies that are a sure fit for businesses, large or small. There's a lengthy three-year warranty that includes onsite service, and lifetime, toll-free phone support is available 24/7. IBM's support site also offers a wealth of downloads and support data, including a detailed troubleshooting area. You can even submit service requests online. And if your system crashes, you have, at your disposal, a user manual that provides troubleshooting advice in addition to setup directions.